Lucy's Reviews > Bel Canto

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
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Mar 23, 09

Read in October, 2007

This book came highly recommended, and once I started reading, I kept thinking I had already but couldn't, for the life of me, remember how it ended. Turns out, it only seemed familiar to me because it is based on a real life experience. In 1995, the president of Peru and many of his guests were taken hostage and held for months. Bel Canto is a fictitious story based loosely on those events.

I only liked Bel Canto. I understand its appeal - the coming together of hostages and terrorists alike, but the writing was a bit too ethereal and romantic for me. SO much emphasis placed on opera, as if it's the universal band-aid. I know a lot of people that don't enjoy opera at all. In fact, a music lover myself, I'd have to admit that most of opera is an acquired taste. The hugeness of the voice, the strong vibrato and foreign languages take some getting used to. However, according to the author, there is no politician, businessman, servant or gunman that doesn't fall into a deep state of hypnosis when a soprano begins her song. I tend to think that perhaps the terrorist from a South American country, where musical tastes are a bit different, might not have been so cast under her spell, but I could be wrong. I've never thought of it as the only offered solace to a terrifying situation.

Which leads me to the other thing that I find a hard time believing. Terrorists...with guns....coming through air vents into a vice presidential palace and no one seems particularly petrified throughout it all. Again, I think this was the author's way of romanticizing the event by leaving out the crapping of pants and desperate pleas for loved ones, but everyone was annoyingly contrite and calm, even the terrorists themselves, who seemed awfully nice and understanding.

The end was appropriately tragic. I read a few reviews that described this as an example of magical realism, a genre I try and avoid so this labeling surprised me. Maybe all the lack of fear, suspended time and happy hostage household was part of it. The ending, while sad and tragic, satisfied my need for logic and realism. This event seemed to have a larger psychological effect on the survivors then the original hostage takeover. Whether or not that is realistic or not, I have no idea.

I wish she hadn't written her epilogue. It was unnecessary and unbelievable. Sort of like how all doctors on a hospital television show end up as couples, as if there were no one else in the world to date or socialize with. (view spoiler).

The book as a whole, however, is not void of greatness. The Russian cabinet member and his story of the box was poetic. Cesar's natural talent and love of performing made me cheer. And the inward look at most regarding their professions and priorities was very appropriate.

All combined, it makes for an enjoyable, flawed book.

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Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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message 1: by KED (new) - rated it 5 stars

KED As someone who LOVED this book, I have to say I didn't hate the epilogue, and it seems like I'm the only one. I also thought it was not a happy, let's-wrap-it-up-neat-and-tidy ending. I thought it was meant to be tragic and sad. That they were both so desperately trying to cling to the the scraps of the person they loved and lost that they married the only person who could remind them and understand. It was a sad resignation that they would never love again and to enter into a life-long companionship rather than to try to move on from the grief.

message 2: by Dee (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dee i totally agree with your comment about the epilogue, but you might want to mark that as a spoiler, since its pivotal to the story and if I hadn't read the book, and read your review, I'd be extremely fustrated by that

Elfear I think that I needed some kind of epilogue to provide some closure. But Gen and Roxanne together was just weird. Also I agree with Dee that this was a bit of spoiler! Please at least note earlier that there will be spoilers.

Janine Barzyk Ackerman Just finished this book and I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one that thinks the Epilogue was crazy...

Kirstanwalker Terrorists taking parties hostage has been a common theme in Central / South America. Something similar also happened in Nicaragua. With that in mind, I think it makes the story more believable instead of just loosely based on real events.

Angie Blantern I love ethereal, romantic writing. Perhaps that's what I love about this book. The epilogue was hard to swallow but made me take a hard look at what I would do in that situation...

Danica "SO much emphasis placed on opera, as if it's the universal band-aid. " Couldn't have said it better myself!

Amie I've been waiting to read your whole review until I finished the book. I agree with you, again....

Tiffini This is the exact review I would have written if I were as eloquent as you. Well done.

April KED I like your reasoning for Gen and Roxane getting married. Even though I have a need for closure I Gen and Roxane together doesn't make sense.

message 11: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin I read this review AFTER reading the book and I agree with Tiffini... this is the review I would have written had I been able to form the words so well!!

message 12: by Maceline (new)

Maceline Thanks for the spoilers. Won't be reading it now. Be careful people. Please.

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